WYNDHAM wrote dozens of short stories. His three most popular collections are; The Seeds of Time, Consider Her Ways and Others, and Jizzle.
You can also select your favourite short story in the Polls section.
The Seeds of Time
Several of these stories deal with the consequences of time travel. Today some of this may seem a touch passé, due to the extensive consideration that has since been given to the topic in film and television. Nonetheless Chronoclasm and Pawley's Peepholes still entertain. The former has a similar vibe to Wyndham's more celebrated short story Random Quest. Martian life is also a theme in The Dumb Martian and Time to Rest (the latter being the basis of the 1965 teleplay No Place Like Earth a still from which is shown below). Wyndham's Martians are presumably evolved from Earthlings.
Perhaps the most noteworthy chapter is Survival, a story with cinematic potential. Alice Morgan, is the pregnant central character, who against her mother’s wishes voyages into space. As fatal misfortune envelopes the mission, she is prepared to go to any lengths to ensure the survival of her foetus.A curious aspect of Survival is the naming of a crew member, and the spaceship herself, as well as the speculative influence on future Sci-Fi classics. It may very well be coincidental, but one of the space travellers is called Bowman. In 2001: A Space Odyssey2001: Arthur C Clarke names his lead (Human) protagonist David Bowman. Though it is predated by Clarke's short story The Sentinel, the basis of 2001, Bowman is not mentioned in that work; the film was released a decade after The Seeds' publication in 1958. The rocketship, to use Wyndham's word is dubbed The Falcon, and one wonders whether George Lucas was giving a nod to Survival when he Christened Han Solo's vessel Millennium Falcon in the Star Wars saga.
Passage From Survival
....She sat there with her lips pressed together, her eyes narrowed, quite still save that her hands trembled. Even through his indignation, the Captain felt surprise, as though he had watched a hearth cat suddenly become a hunter. She said stubbornly:
'I haven't asked for any privilege until now, Captain. I wouldn't ask you now if it wasn't absolutely necessary. But that man's death gives us a margin now. And I must have more food.'
The Captain controlled himself with an effort.
'Bowman's death has not given us a margin, or a wind-fall - all it has done is to extend by a day or two the chance of our survival. Do you think that every one of us doesn't ache just as much as you do for more food? In all my considerable experience of effrontery-'
She raised her thin hand to stop him. The hardness of her eyes made him wonder why he had ever thought her timid.
'Captain. Look at me!' she said, in a harsh tone.
He looked. Presently his expression of anger faded into shocked astonishment. A faint tinge of pink stole into her pale cheeks.
'Yes,' she said. You see, you've got to give me more food. My baby must have the chance to live.'
The Captain continued to stare at her as if mesmerised. Presently he shut his eyes, and passed his hand over his brow.
'God in Heaven, this is terrible,' he murmured.
Alice Morgan said seriously, as if she had already considered that very point:
'No. It isn't terrible - not if my baby lives.' He looked at her helplessly , without speaking. She went on:
'It wouldn't be robbing anyone, you see. Bowman doesn't need his rations any more _ but my baby does. It's quite simple, really.' She looked questioningly at the Captain. He had no comment ready.
She continued: 'So you couldn't call it unfair. After all, I'm two people now, really, aren't I? I need more food. If you don't let me have it you'll be murdering my baby. So you must...must...My baby has got to live _ he's got to....'
Consider Her Ways and Others
The title story, which may qualify as a novella, is mainly set in a world populated entirely by females, and is, according to many critics his finest short story. It certainly has a surreal beginning and an eerie twist. The volume also contains Random Quest, an offbeat, romantic time-travelling adventure that was made into a recent BBC Four one-off drama. There was also an early Seventies film, starring Joan Collins and Tom Bell, renamed Quest for Love, and a Sixties teleplay of Consider Her Ways (see Vision).
The four others are Odd and Stitch in Time which share a sort of inverted similarity, the latter having more meat to its' bones. The shock of time-travel/parallel universes briefly touching is dealt with in much the same manner; brandy in Odd, whisky in Stitch in Time. Oh, Where, Now is Peggy MacRafferty? deals with the themes that are more prevalent now than when the story was first written, namely the vacuous nature of the film industry and the futile, not to mention self-defeating, attempt to achieve physical perfection. Though the story entertains, again Wyndham demonstrates with his Irish protagonist that the Celtic colloquial is not his forte. Whereas, Long Spoon has an unusual plot combining devilry with the Football Pools.
Extract from Consider Her Ways and Others
A few feet away I saw a contrivance on wheels, something between a bed and a trolley. On it, asleep with her mouth open, was the most enormous woman I had ever seen. I stared, wondering whether it was some kind of cage over her to take the weight of the covers that gave her the mountainous look, but the movement of her breathing soon showed me that it was not. Then I looked beyond her and saw two more trolleys, both supporting equally enormous women.
I studied the nearest one more closely, and discovered to my surprise that she was quite young-not more than twenty-two, or twenty-three, I guessed. Her face was a little plump, perhaps, but by no means overfat; indeed, with her fresh, healthy young colouring and her short-cropped gold curls, she was quite pretty. I fell to wondering what curious disorder of the glands could cause such a degree of anomaly at her age.
Ten minutes or so passed, and there was a sound of brisk, business-like footsteps approaching. A voice inquired:
'How are you feeling now?'
I rolled my head to the other side, and found myself looking into a face almost level with my own. For a moment I thought its owner must be a child, then I saw that the features under the white cap were certainly not less than thirty years old. Without waiting for a reply she reached under the bedclothes and took my pulse. Its rate appeared to satisfy her, for she nodded confidently.
'You'll be all right now, Mother,' she told me.
I stared at her blankly.
'The car's only just outside the door there. Do you think you can walk to it?' she went on.
Bemusedly, I asked: 'What car?'
'Why, to take you home, of course,' she said, with professional patience.'Come along now.' And she pulled away the bedclothes.
I started to move, and looked down. What I saw there held me fixed. I lifted my arm. It was like nothing so much as a plump, white bolster with a ridiculous little hand attached at the end. I stared at it in horror. Then I heard a far-off scream as I fainted....
When I opened my eyes again there was a woman-a normal-sized woman-in a white overall with a stethoscope round her neck, frowning at me in perplexity.
Jizzle (no innuendo intended though there is a sexual element) is a collection of quirky tales of the unexpected. The title story is about an exceptionally talented portrait-painting monkey called Giselle, or Jizzle to the drunken man who purchases her down the pub from a 'big negro'. The other chapters are an eclectic assortment of science-fiction, folklore, and the generally inexplicable. I was struck by Chinese Puzzle, a story set in Wales, in which all characters seem to speak like a Welsh Yoda 'An interesting egg that is' etc. As I read Chinese Puzzle I was aware of the absurdity of the subject matter, but on reflection felt that it was actually a very logical fantasy. The same is true of More Spinned Against. Confidence Trick and The Wheel (see The Chrysalids) also resonate.
Short Excerpt from The Wheel
....The sound drew, closer, and a boy's head showed above the wall. He grinned at the old man, an expression of excitement in his eyes. He did not call out, but moved a little faster until he came to the gate. There he turned into the yard, proudly towing behind him a box mounted on four wooden wheels.
The old man got up suddenly from his seat, in alarm in every line. He waved both arms at the boy as though he would push him back. The boy stopped. His expression of gleeful pride faded into astonishment. He stared at the old man who was waving him away so urgently. While he still hesitated the old man continued to shoo him off with one hand as he placed the other on his own lips, and started to walk towards him. Reluctantly and bewilderedly the boy turned, but too late. The pounding in the shed stopped. A middle-aged woman appeared in the doorway. Her mouth was open to call, but the words did not come. Her jaw dropped slackly, her eyes seemed to bulge, then she crossed herself, and screamed. . . .
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